Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife for accepting gifts from a dietary supplement businessman. McDonnell had state health officials meet with Star Scientific Inc. representatives who wanted its supplement, Anatabloc, included in the basic health plan for state employees. The Governor and his wife openly endorsed Anatabloc.
Jonnie R. Williams, head of Star Scientific Inc., gave over $100,000 in corporate jet travel to the governor and personal gifts to the McDonnell’s over $145,000. Williams had run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which forced him to pay back nearly $300,000 for using research with false claims to promote a medical business. Star Scientific has three shareholder lawsuits against it alleging the company made false or misleading statements to boost Anatabloc.
Like all other dietary supplements, approval by the Food and Drug Administration before sale is not required. The company claims that Anatabloc helps “reduce inflammation and support a health metabolism.” However, as reported by the Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch, the company has put out at least 15 press releases on scientific studies it commissioned implying Anatabloc might mitigate the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, thyroiditis and traumatic brain injuries. It’s advertising also promotes Anatabloc for joint pain and inflammation, even though the active ingredient has only been tested in pre-clinical, animal studies. In December 2013, the FDA informed Star Scientific that it was improperly selling Anatabloc and the company needed FDA approval to sell it as a drug.
Somewhat ironically (or not) Governor McDonnell received a combined M.A./J.D. degree from Christian Broadcasting Network University (now called Regent University). Christian Broadcasting Network University was founded by Pat Robertson, conservative religious broadcaster and one time Presidential candidate. Robertson sold another dietary supplement, described as an “age defying shake” and was accused of using his tax-deductible contributions to the school to promote a commercial product. In one of his promotions, Robertson, then 76 years old, claimed that he could leg-press 1,000 pounds, more than the world record.
McDonnell should have seen in coming. In 2002, Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His wife, Cherie Blair, became involved with another dietary supplement businessman, Peter Foster. Foster was an Australian who had been convicted and jailed on three continents for offences involving weight loss products and property transactions. Foster became a financial advisor to Blair and assisted her with the purchase of two apartments. Cherie Blair denied the involvement but evidence came out to the contrary.
As long as the dietary supplement industry can operate without showing scientific basis for its products, it will remain an easy arena for scam artists who can pocket millions, often from weight loss products. The FDA and Federal Trade Commission can do a lot more enforcement of current laws but eventually Congress will have to bring the dietary supplement industry under tougher supervision.